Sunday, February 7, 2010

A couple of thoughts about Sarah Palin

Andrew Sullivan is officially having a breakdown about Sarah Palin.

And with good reason.

I watched about 15 minutes or so of her address to the teabaggers last night, which was about all I could take. It was a speech of such willful distortion, and stunning arrogance that only a true believer could watch it with anything less than disgust.

If you want the real window into just how ignorant this person is, read Game Change. I don't think I'm giving too much away when I say that McCain's advisers predicted a meltdown during the debate with Joe Biden. She didn't know the difference between North and South Korea, or the basic facts about World War II and the Cold War. She was cramming to be Vice President on things that you're supposed to know coming out of high school. And when her debate prep started going badly, she just retreated into silence. (The advisers finally decided to make their best guesses on the questions she'd be asked and wrote out responses that she was made to memorize.)

The idea of this person rising to any position of power whatsoever is jaw dropping. (As dumb as George W. Bush is, I doubt very much that he didn't understand the difference between North and South Korea prior to debate prep.)

Another reason why Palin is doubly scary is that there's a teflon quality to her.

There were a number of things that she did during the campaign and its aftermath that would -- under normal circumstances -- be career killers. How does one recover from the babbling, incoherent mess of an interview that she gave to Katie Couric? That's the kind of withering moment (like, say, Dan Quayle's debate performance against Lloyd Bensen) that stays with a politician like a case of herpes.

Not Sarah Palin.

When you've been accused of being inexperienced, how does it make sense for your political future to walk away from a governorship before your first term is up? (It's not as though the 2012 election was coming up any time soon.) It was in the middle of scandals and criticism and dropping poll numbers. It looked like a suicide move.

And yet nobody cares amongst her national followers.

Unfortunately, populist demagogues like Sarah Palin have a history of getting extremely far in politics. Lack of experience, lack of knowledge, lack of anything actually useful in governing have little to do with their appeal. And for this reason, I, too am scared of Sarah Palin.

However, there are a couple of things to consider:

1) Palin has peaked early.

Part of the reason that Palin and the teabaggers are enjoying a run of national popularity has to do with the fact that the 2012 election is still two-and-a-half years off. The support is there because people do not have to make a real choice yet. When they do -- when the moment is upon them, when they're really thinking of who they're going to vote for -- I don't think it will be Sarah Palin. Are Americans really going to speed head first back into the Bush years? I find that somewhat difficult to believe.

2) Another blowup is inevitable.

I think that's a sort of risky way to think, but Palin is such a basketcase that I don't think it's such a stretch to think that several more bombs will go off over the next couple of years.

Can anything really destroy this woman? Well, we'll have to wait and see. But at a certain point, only so many bombs can go off before she starts looking like what she really is: A fraud. A person with nothing to offer America except identity politics bullshit. A person who wants power for the sake of power -- not someone who has any real ideas.

3) There's only so much time she can spend in the national spotlight before she has to produce ideas.

She wants to cut taxes, balance the budget and not touch any entitlements. It makes no sense. Granted, Bush got away with doing this for a very long time (minus the balancing the budget part), but let's not forget: Barack Obama is president of the United States. He has a very big microphone. Moreover, President Obama has the intellect and the courage to challenge her on this. When he is on the stump he will demand answers from her. Maybe she can get away with dodging forever, but I don't think Obama (or his advisers) will let her.

4) Her followers are loud, devoted and few in number.

Yes, I wish she had fewer followers. And, yes, there are regions of the country that revere her. And, I will even admit, the devotion is somewhat like the devotion towards President Obama on the left. But there is a crucial difference: Obama knew what he was doing. He lit a fire under his followers, but he also managed to convince the great middle that he was a serious person with smart solutions. I don't think Palin will ever have any appeal beyond the right wing.

So for all of those reasons, I think that Palin's rise to prominence will in all likelihood help Obama more than a guy like Mitt Romney who (unbearable asshole though he is) is at least a serious alternative. It's one thing to flirt with a woman like Palin. It's another thing to put a ring on her finger.